Sacred Cows
- Lester Dizon () - February 17, 2010 - 12:00am

Every once in a rare while, we give a sigh of relief when a government official does something that he’s supposed to do. The appeal of Land Transportation Office (LTO) Chief Assistant Secretary Arturo Lomibao for traffic enforcers to temporarily suspend the “No Plate, No Travel” policy while the LTO tries to solve its license plates and stickers supply problem has given motorists and motorcyclists, especially the drivers and riders of brand new cars and motorcycles, a welcome albeit brief respite from the constant harassment they are getting on the road.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few weeks, the LTO has been besieged by demands from auto and motorbike dealers for the license plates and stickers of the new units that they have sold to their customers. Some of the customers have been driving or riding around without plate numbers, the supply of which has been delayed for several weeks now.

The LTO recently released a press statement blaming the plate and sticker manufacturer for the delay while the manufacturer maintains that the LTO has been remiss in their payments which resulted in losses to their business operations. The LTO also insinuated that the motorcycle and car manufacturers have been selling too many vehicles which created an unforeseen increase in demand for license plates and stickers. (Wait! Isn’t that supposed to be good news – the auto industry sold around 133,000 units and the motorcycle industry sold around 756,000 units, growing around 3 percent despite the world financial crisis and the triple calamities Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi in 2009?)

Meanwhile, several “kotong” cops, especially those manning the police checkpoints enforcing the Comelec gun ban, are having a field day extorting money from or impounding vehicles of hapless motorists and riders whose vehicles do not have license plates. These motorists then turn their ire on the car and motorcycle dealers from where they bought their vehicles and these dealers insist that they have dutifully processed their customers’ LTO documents only to be told by their respective LTO liaison officers that the license plates and stickers are delayed by the LTO’s lack of supplies.

Customers blame the dealers. Dealers blame the LTO. The LTO blames the manufacturers. So, who’s really to blame here?

For those not in the know, the LTO is a government tax collection agency much like the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and it rakes in the third largest tax collection after the two agencies. The monies collected by these agencies are forwarded to the National Government before any amount is appropriated to the various government departments as defined in the approved Annual National Budget.

Of course, if you put in a little graft and corruption here and there, and a little behest allocation here and there (like spending for the propaganda of the still-born RFID, or spending for the upcoming May 2010 Elections, or spending for a convoy of motorcycle escorts, wang-wangs and SUV-riding bodyguards), the money does not really go where it’s supposed to, like going back to the LTO to pay for license plates and stickers that have already been supplied but are not yet paid for.

On the side of the license plate and sticker maker, we heard that only one supplier has been currently tapped by the LTO and it’s not because of favoritism or some “mutually-beneficial” arrangement but it’s because other suppliers choose not to deal with the LTO due to the extended term of payment usually required by the government and the long delay before the LTO actually pays, which is again not entirely the fault of the LTO but the result of the misappropriated, err…late appropriation of government funds.

Unless a problem erupts from this misappropriation, it seems that many of our elected and appointed government officials are happily spending money that is not theirs to spend in the first place. Only when a problem becomes a big issue and gets media attention, the attention of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee or worse, gets a large population of potential voters angry during an Election Year, do our suddenly-not-as-arrogant-as-before officials begin to work, or at least, pretend that they’re working on the problem.

Aside from funds mismanagement, our elected and appointed government officials’ lack of management skills is also to blame here. In the LTO, for instance, the registration of new vehicles and the registration renewal of older vehicles have been fully computerized yet this computerization program seems nothing more than just a mobilization of glorified typewriters – they simply print certificates and receipts and not much more.

We are forced to pay Stradcom P130 for what the LTO enters in their Official Receipts (OR) as “Comp. Fee” every time we register or renew the registration of our vehicles yet Stradcom cannot make an accurate forecast about the predicted demand for license plates and stickers for the next year. Heck, it takes them nearly three months to actually come up with a report on the number of vehicles registered last month. This is perhaps one of the reasons why LTO officials cannot really come up with a concrete improvement plan – they’re clueless on what to do next without the management information that is supposed to be provided by Stradcom’s computerization program.

And if you really think about it, P130 multiplied by 5.5 million vehicles being registered annually amounts to P715 Million that Stradcom collects yearly just for printing certificates and receipts (that the LTO frontline personnel can do by themselves anyway) and for submitting late reports that come without any analysis. That money can be used for creating better management systems at the LTO, which Asst. Sec. Lomibao can rely on to improve the services of LTO and create his legacy while he’s at the helm. But, of course, Stradcom is a sacred cow that cannot be trifled with unless you want Malacañang to transfer you to Timbuktu.

And here in lies the rub – there are just too many sacred cows in this country. These sacred cows include influential LTO regional and district heads, who hold on to more license plates and stickers than they have registrants in their area just so that they can assign these plates at their behest (or to the highest bidder); influential LTO personnel who hoard license plates that have 168 and 888 numeric codes because they can sell these to the highest bidders; influential jerks who drive around in a number 8 plate that are supposed to be assigned only to Congressional representatives; influential yet Vehemently Inutile Persons (VIPs) who drive around escorted by a phalanx of bodyguards and motorcycle cops who break every traffic law known to man; influential but stupid LTO employees who ordered a lot of red government license plates that remained available and unused instead of ordering green private plates that are now sorely needed by motorists and motorcyclists; and influence peddlers representing the bus, jeepney and tricycle drivers and operators association so that the governing bodies will look the other way even if these public utility vehicles are violating all existing environmental, traffic and public safety laws.

Scientific approaches and engineering solutions are sorely needed to solve the problems at LTO and ensure that these recurring problems remain solved. One of the suggestions we’ve mentioned in this column is the assignment of dealer plates, which will be registered to a specific car or motorcycle dealership and not to a particular vehicle. The dealership will be required to renew the plates annually and it can be attached to any new vehicle owned by the dealer (like a demo vehicle) or sold through them. Ideally, the dealer plate will be attached to a brand new vehicle during delivery and will be returned by the customer to the dealership once the actual LTO license plate for his or her vehicle is released. The returned dealer plate can then be used on the next sold or delivered vehicle. If a vehicle with a dealer plate is involved in an accident or a commission of a crime, the dealer plate traces it to the dealership that keeps a record of customers or personnel whose vehicle the plate was temporarily assigned to. The PNP can still implement its “No Plate, No Travel” policy to curb criminal activities while brand new car owners need not fear being harassed during police check points, especially when license plate supplies have dwindled again. Problem solved.

Again, we’d like to reiterate that most of the solutions are relatively simple. All it actually needs is a strong political will. Unfortunately, that requires killing a lot of sacred cows.

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